California, Amador

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California, Amador

Postby palmspringsbum » Mon Jan 29, 2007 10:58 pm

The Amador Ledger-Dispatch wrote:
State triples medical pot fees

Friday, January 26, 2007
The Amador Ledger-Dispatch

By Raheem Hosseini (

A marijuana plant from a legal garden maintained by Ione resident Allen Toupe. The state is tripling its fees for medical marijuana ID cards.

The Amador County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday quietly adopted the state's request for a staggering fee increase for its medical marijuana identification card program, more than tripling what county residents currently pay to obtain the voluntary IDs.

The resolution increasing the state's share from $13 to $142 per card was on the Jan. 23 meeting's consent calendar, which was adopted without discussion. The county currently charges $48 per card, ratcheting up the total cost to $190 for an ID card that must be renewed every year.

"They're pretty hefty," said Angel LeSage, public information officer for the Department of Public Health, of the fee increase. "We're looking at our system and what we have to do."

LeSage told the Ledger Dispatch that that means reviewing what, if any, type of outreach has to be done to inform the public.

The reason given by the state Department of Health Services for the 109 percent increase to its share of the fees is that the program has been operating under a major deficit, which is due to a significantly smaller number of ID card applications being filed than expected. The state Legislature passed Senate Bill 420 in 2003, creating the voluntary program that lets people in the state obtain an ID card with a doctor's recommendation. Since then, only 5,631 cards have been issued. California NORML, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reforming the state's marijuana laws, estimates there are 150,000 to 350,000 medicinal marijuana patients in California.

Ione resident Allen Toupe is one of those patients, as well as the holder of his own ID card. A cancer patient who had his bowels and colon removed three years ago, Toupe began taking medicinal cannabis when his doctors could no longer prescribe opiate-derived pain killers like methadone, valium or liquid oxycontin. Instead, his doctor suggested a drug that has been far less invasive yet much more taboo.

Perhaps ironically, the man Toupe says he now is is a far cry from the incapacitated addict legal pharmaceuticals made him.

"I was on so many drugs that it was killing me," he said. "No one, and I mean no one ever documented has died from marijuana."

With the new fee bumped up to nearly $200, Toupe said even more chronic pain sufferers and terminally ill patients will be dissuaded from participating in the ID program, especially since there are no local dispensaries where people like Toupe can fill their prescriptions. He belongs to a group of roughly 30 local medicinal marijuana users who pool their resources and travel to the Bay Area to fill their prescriptions in bulk.

"If they're going to charge that kind of money, they should allow safe access," Toupe said.

But while the county hasn't placed a moratorium on marijuana dispensaries, as many cities and counties across the state have, the requirements for obtaining a use permit have proven restrictive. The board of supervisors last extended an urgency moratorium in August 2005, which ended last year.

Without local access, the end result is that many patients with legal access to medicinal marijuana are turning to illegal procurement to fill their prescriptions, according to Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project.

And while an ID card isn't required for protection under the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, Mirken said the cards make it easier for patients to navigate law enforcement and dispensary requirements.

"We do worry that there will be some folks who won't be able to get cards because of the cost," he added.

Here in Amador County, a patient with a doctor's recommendation is legally permitted to maintain six mature marijuana plants or 12 immature plants, though a doctor can recommend more.

One reason so few applications have been turned in is that only 23 of the state's 58 counties currently offer the ID card program. San Diego recently filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the state in an attempt to resist implementing such a program.

While San Diego lost its suit, proponents of the ID card program say the state must now prepare its coffers for future lawsuits from dissenting counties, necessitating the substantial fee increase. Part of the reason counties have bucked against state law comes from the fact that the federal government still considers marijuana an illegal narcotic and doesn't allow for medicinal uses.

"We were a little worried when we first started (our program)," LeSage admitted.

Amador County had one of the first pilot programs offering ID cards, something Toupe praises the county for doing.

"I've never had any problem with law enforcement or the county," he said, adding that police officers will sometimes bring cadets by his house to show them what a legal marijuana garden looks like.

But the argument that the conflict in state and federal law leaves counties in a precarious legal position doesn't sit well with Toupe or Mirken.

"It frankly doesn't make a lot of sense to me," Mirken said. "They're not the ones at risk if the feds want to come in."

That burden rests with the state, which, again, factors into the fee increase that will go into effect this March.

"I'll still get (the ID card) because I believe in the program," Toupe told the Ledger Dispatch, "but some people don't have the same outlook as me."

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Pot war lingers on for region

Postby palmspringsbum » Thu Feb 15, 2007 8:46 pm

The Amador Ledger-Dispatch wrote:Pot war lingers on for region

Friday, February 02, 2007

By Raheem Hosseini (
The Amador Ledger-Dispatch

<span class=postbold>Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series.</span>

<table class=posttable align=right width=300><tr><td class=postcell><img class=postimg width=300 src=bin/amador.jpg></td></tr><tr><td class=postcap>The medical benefits of legal pharmaceuticals like methodone verus federally illegal drugs like marijuana continues to stir debate. </td></tr></table>When it comes to current drug laws, perhaps none are more schizophrenic than the ones surrounding the issue of medical marijuana. Legal in some states - including California - outlawed in others and still very much illegal at the federal level, small counties like Amador often serve as ground zero in the battle over conflicting drug policies.

"Technically, people possessing marijuana at the state level can be prosecuted at the federal level," explained Melinda Aiello, chief assistant district attorney for Amador County.

While Amador was one of the first counties to implement a medical marijuana identification card program created by the state Legislature in 2003, it has been less receptive to the idea of licensed pot dispensaries setting up.

In the summer of 2005, the county instituted an indefinite moratorium on issuing use permits to businesses where individuals could obtain marijuana with a licensed doctor's recommendation.

The rationale then was that a June 6, 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the federal government could enforce federal drug laws in states with conflicting legal codes could potentially leave the county vulnerable to lawsuits.

Even back then, it was a bitter pill to swallow, with then-District 3 Supervisor Richard Vinson calling a legal system that allows alcohol and tobacco sales but outlaws medical cannabis "terribly confused."

That confusion has persisted, with more than a third of California counties so far refusing to implement ID card programs like the one in Amador, and many local municipalities enforcing their own moratoriums.

<span class=postbold>One man's fight</span>

Allen Toupe is not your stereotypical marijuana user. He doesn't have droopy eyes and giggle uncontrollably or even utter a single "man" during an hour-long interview. The Ione father of two is one of a growing number of people both locally and nationally hoping to alter the perception of medicinal cannabis, which continues to encounter fierce opposition in some circles.

Toupe's own medical history reads like a Russian melodrama. Nearly losing his left foot to a grisly Rototiller accident at the age of 3, Toupe was infected with dirty blood during a transfusion, leaving him with Hepatitis C. Years later, he was diagnosed with a rare strain of cancer called cryogobulinemia, which turns one's blood into cold, clotted sludge. As a result, Toupe had his colon and bowels removed three years ago, which is what ultimately convinced his doctor to recommend marijuana for the pain.

Toupe credits the recommendation with saving his life from an overload of legal, opiate-derived pharmaceuticals like methodone and liquid Oxycontin and helping him keep his 10-year-old son.

"I was completely incapacitated," he said of the effect legal pharmaceuticals had on him. "Those drugs weren't helping me."

Toupe was something of a pioneer in terms of medical marijuana ID cards. When the county geared up its program in 2005, Toupe was the 23rd person in the state to get one. The last time he renewed his card, he was listed as No. 1,415.

<span class=postbold>No consensus</span>

Each California county has its own unique experience with the medical marijuana issue. Amador and Calaveras counties have ID card programs, but no licensed businesses where patients can fill their prescriptions. El Dorado County has neither an ID card program nor any dispensaries, but at least one of those issues will be revisited this month, with that county's board of supervisors set to discuss a possible ID card program at an upcoming meeting.

"No decision has yet been reached, including whether dispensaries will be allowed in the county," said Margaret Williams, public information officer for the El Dorado County Department of Public Health.

Yet while the county as a whole currently has a temporary moratorium against medical marijuana dispensaries, the city of Placerville approved them in 2004 and has one currently in operation. The manager for the dispensary said he had a relatively easy time gaining approval for the nonprofit business and has encountered no legal headaches since.

"Counties and cities don't really have a leg to stand on," Matt Vaughn, corporate executive officer of Medical Marijuana Caregivers Association, said of the precarious legal position local municipalities put themselves in by erecting moratoriums. "It just takes a legal challenge to (overturn) it."

After the MMCA threatened its own legal challenge against Placerville in 2004, the city formed a committee to draft its dispensary ordinance and passage was granted. Since then, Vaughn said his business has not had to weather one federal raid, which hasn't been the case for several other dispensaries operating in the state.

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That other muddled war

Postby palmspringsbum » Thu Feb 15, 2007 8:54 pm

The Amador Ledger-Dispatch wrote:
That other muddled war

Friday, February 02, 2007
The Amador Ledger-Dispatch
By Raheem Hosseini

I remember Nancy Reagan shaking hands with Gary Coleman on a very special episode of "Diff'rent Strokes." I remember watching eggs fry in a hot skillet and growing hungry for my brain on drugs. I remember sitting in a darkened theater with about 15 other filmgoers and being unable to move because the horrifying drug opus "Requiem for a Dream" had reduced us to quivering masses. I remember that commercial with the two guys sitting at a bar, talking about how smoking marijuana helped the terrorists.

I remember just saying no to that last one.

When it comes to the war on drugs, I consider myself a conscientious objector. And it's not because I foster romantic notions regarding experimentation and individual freedom, but because this intractable conflict has trudged on too selectively.

If you want to know what the difference is between crack and powder cocaine, it's these three things: Price, race and jail time.

And more than a decade after Californians passed the landmark Compassionate Use Act of 1996, the federal and state governments continue to stare at each other across the medicinal marijuana legal divide. Stuck in the middle are the chronically and terminally ill, who can't freely access pain medication that would quell their agony. But hey, if they want to go down to the corner pharmacy for something a lot less effective yet far more addictive, current drug laws say no problem.

While counties like Amador do allow qualified medical patients to procure voluntary medical marijuana identification cards with a doctor's recommendation, these same communities don't permit the cannabis dispensaries that could actually fill the prescriptions. You can find them in metropolitan areas, but many suburban and rural communities have placed moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries for fear that the federal government will knock them down.

<span class=postbold>It's a credible fear.</span>

Drug enforcement agents jack-booted their way into several dispensaries last year, including ones in Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and elsewhere. And while most dispensaries go about their business without federally sanctioned harassment, the raids that have occurred have been high profile enough to scare the timid. In the eyes of U.S. law, Hippie Hank and Chemo Carl are the same.

And yet, a recent government-funded survey found that illicit drug use among teens is actually on the decline, compared to a rising number of American youth who are beginning to abuse legal, prescription drugs.

So where's the drug protection that we actually need?

Allergies, nausea, muscle aches, impotence, depression, short attention spans, hair loss, chunky thighs - is there any ailment there isn't a drug for?

And here's a question for all the adults: Whatever happened to sucking it up? Is life in the 21st century that unbearable, or are we ODing on a custom-fit society, where every petty grievance has a magic elixir and every wayward blister has a reconstructive surgeon and anesthesiologist standing by.

That's a rhetorical question. The answer is 'yes.'

But if the adults are acting like big babies, then the federal government is thriving in the role of enabler. The Federal Drug Administration will greenlight Oxycontin, now a popular street drug because of its ability to knock fiends on their duffs, but hold up even discussing RU-486 until the nomination of its new director is held up by the Senate.

A $26 million fine against ineffective diet pills notwithstanding, the FDA has proven itself less as a competent oversight body and more as the gatekeeper of massive political contributions from the pharmaceutical industry.

As a result, the message given to America's youth is decidedly mixed. Kids may be young, but they're not stupid. They can smell the hypocrisy like it's oregano baking in a hot baggy.

After 88 years of this decomposing drug war - longer if you count Maine's passage of its prohibition law in 1846 - we still can't pick our battles. Heck, we can't even keep steroids out of major league sports.

And just like that other disastrous conflict thousands of miles away, our war on drugs shows no signs of abating.

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Pot regs bedevil local officials

Postby palmspringsbum » Sun Feb 18, 2007 1:42 pm

The Amador Ledger Dispatch wrote:
Pot regs bedevil local officials

Friday, February 09, 2007
The Amador Ledger Dispatch
By Raheem Hosseini
Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series.

In a state that regulates medical marijuana and in a county that issues identification cards to qualified patients, where can one go to fill a doctor's recommendation for safe, legal cannabis? That simple question has proven incredibly complicated.

"I have no idea," said Angel LeSage, spokesperson for Amador County's Public Health Department. "It's not our problem, so to speak."

But it is a problem for many others, from patients who must travel far to cities where marijuana dispensaries are allowed to law enforcement officials who have to police those who might try to procure it illicitly.

"We get calls all the time (from Amador County residents)," said Matt Vaughn, the corporate executive officer for Medical Marijuana Caregivers Association, the Placerville dispensary that's been operating since January 2004.

More than 10 years after California voters passed the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 and four years after the state Legislature found a way to implement it with Senate Bill 420, Amador County and other communities still struggle with the weakly defined regulations.

While Amador was one of the first to implement the identification card program outlined in the state Senate's bill, many other counties haven't, including El Dorado and San Diego, which recently filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the state in an attempt to resist implementing such a program.

"In my opinion, (Proposition 215) was a very poorly written law," said Undersheriff Jim Wegner. "It is very vague and wrought with loopholes."

Specifically, the guidelines governing just who can be an approved user are fairly lax, Wegner pointed out, putting police and judges in a bind and diluting a law that was meant to help the terminally and chronically ill.

"I do take issue with those that abuse a law which was passed to help those that are truly, significantly ill and really deserve whatever comfort we can provide them," he said.

<span class=postbold>Conflict resolution</span>

"While the number of raids is comparatively small, it's enough to scare some people," said Bruce Mirken, director of Communications for the Marijuana Policy Project.

In some cases, that fear is downright palpable. Two cannabis delivery services serving the tri-county area that were contacted by the Ledger Dispatch refused to comment, with one simply hanging up once he was told he was speaking to a member of the press.

Eleven Los Angeles outlets were raided by federal drug enforcement agents in January, while dozens were targeted in San Diego earlier last summer. Numerous dispensaries have been raided in the Sacramento area as well, with the city of Roseville reversing its stance on medical marijuana dispensaries in 2005 as a result of raids.

"We have been pretty fortunate. You haven't seen our county all over the news," Wegner said. "Almost all of our surrounding counties have been."

The fact that Amador has an indefinite moratorium in place against marijuana dispensaries is partly responsible, an issue that concerns Ione cancer survivor Allen Toupe, himself a card carrying marijuana patient.

"The federal government is very selective about the laws they choose to enforce," Toupe said. He points to the state's ban on assault weapons, which the federal government no longer has, and notes that federal agents aren't raiding California gun stores that don't sell AK-47s.

But using federal intervention as a reason to refuse local access is a faulty premise for local municipalities, Mirken said. As long as cities and counties are abiding by state laws and local ordinances, it's the dispensaries and medical cannabis patients that are vulnerable to federal prosecution.

That can't be much comfort to patients like Toupe, who credits marijuana with controlling his pain and doing far less physical damage than the legal pharmaceutical drugs he was prescribed before his surgery.

"The Betty Ford centers and rehab places of the world aren't filled up with pot heads," he said. "Drugs that save your life, like my cancer medication, are expensive. But the drugs that string you out and keep you buying more are cheap."

<span class=postbold>An issue of hypocrisy?</span>

Though government studies in support of marijuana's medical benefits have been slow to come, they have begun to trickle in, with state-sponsored studies in California, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico and New York all showing benefits to cancer patients. Academic studies on the matter are in greater supply, and add AIDS and Alzheimer's, among other diseases, to the list of medical conditions that could be favorably impacted by prescribed marijuana use.

But last summer's statewide crackdown on illicit marijuana plantations and the continued prosecution of legal dispensaries send a very different message.

"I see an awful lot of time, money and energy being spent on what is the least dangerous of illicit drugs and a lot less dangerous than many legal drugs," Mirken said.

But marijuana isn't as harmless as some proponents make it out to be, either. Cannabis is one of the more abused drugs in Amador County, explained Wegner, and is often cited by addicts as being a gateway drug along with alcohol and tobacco. The fact that the latter two are both legal have stirred patients rights activists to complain of preferential legality.

And while the county hasn't seen any recent shoot-outs at illicit cultivation sites, Wegner said he has personally investigated two shootings related to marijuana.

While access has always been an issue, price just became a greater one. The state recently levied a substantial increase for its share of ID card fees, raising the cost from $13 to $142. That's aside from the fees counties charge, which in Amador is currently $48 per card.

Part of the reason for the massive hike has been the unwillingness of 23 counties to implement the ID card program, resulting in a greatly reduced number of applications than estimated. Of the 150,000 to 350,000 Proposition 215 patients the state Department of Health estimates are in California, less than 6,000 have ID cards.

<span class=postbold>Taking another road</span>

Toupe has found a way to circumvent the county's current moratorium by grouping up with nearly 30 other medical marijuana users in the community and pooling resources. Rather than drive multiple times a week outside the county to fill a prescription, the group can negotiate smaller prices for larger amounts and limit trips to the Bay Area once a week.

Since implementing the ID card program in 2005, Amador County has issued nearly 50 cards. It's not a high number, according to LeSage.

"Most authorizations are coming from outside the county," she said.

But that doesn't necessarily mean the number of medical marijuana patients in Amador County is small.

Vaughn said he gets calls all the time from Amador patients looking to fill their prescriptions, and Toupe said his group is growing.

"These are not your average, run-of-the-mill kids looking for pot," he said of the members in his group, whom he notes are overwhelmingly over 40 and include some prominent members of the community.

While it irks Toupe that he can't access his prescription locally, outside of what he's legally allowed to cultivate himself, he has high praise for officials within the county, whom he credits with doing more than most.

Whether it's enough - whether it will ever be enough - will remain a debate for the foreseeable future.

"Access, to some degree, will always be an issue until federal law changes and we can have above ground access," Mirken said.

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